Xavier Martinez will head into his 23rd birthday with his most competitive and satisfying win to date.
A pair of knockdowns put a scare into the junior lightweight prospect, who bounced back from a disastrous 8th round to claim a 12-round unanimous decision win over Claudio Marrero. Judges Tom Carusone and John McKaie scored the contest 114-112 each, while judge Glenn Feldman had it 115-111, all for Martinez in their title eliminator Saturday evening from a crowdless Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Martinez remained poised throughout the opening round, working his jab and maintaining a tight guard to pick off Marrero’s pawing jab and straight left hands. The night marked his first piece of ring action since a 21-second knockout of John Vincent Moralde nearly one year ago. Neither fighter landed much of consequence in round one, with Martinez picking up the pace in round two. The unbeaten Sacramento product pushed through Marrero’s defense with his jab, also scoring a left hook to the midsection.
Marrero came out swinging in round three, showing off his dazzling hand speed and landing a couple of right hooks upstairs. Martinez took the shots well, returning fire with straight right hands and a sizzling left hook to driveMarrero back into the ropes.
Momentum continued to swing from that point onward. Martinez resumed control in round four, moving forward and producing satisfying results with his jab. Marrero turned the tide in round five, connecting with right hooks and following up with enough left hands to cause reddening around Martinez’s eye.
Martinez returned the favor in round six, the strength of his heavy jab and occasional left hook causing the right eye of Marrero to begin to swell shut.
Time was called at the start of round seven as Marrero was examined by the ringside physician. The Dominican southpaw was given a clean bill of health, quickly followed by fists full of leather from Martinez who became dialed in with his left hook. Marrero spent much of the frame playing defense, though appreciative of his opponent’s aggression.
Marrero’s corner, however, wasn’t quite as entertained. Head trainer Carlos DeLeon Jr. urged the southpaw to put his experience to use, reminding his charge that Martinez had never been past eight rounds in his young career. Marrero heeded the advice, flooring Martinez with a smoking right hook early in round eight.
Martinez beat the count but found himself on the canvas moments later, as Marrero scored a barrage of punches upstairs. Referee Arthur Mercante Jr. gave Martinez a hard look after issuing his mandatory eight count before allowing action to continue. Martinez survived the worst round of his career, though having to contend with a mouse under his left eye and a resurgent foe in front of him.
Entering the ninth round for the first time in his career, Martinez returned to his jab and created space between the two. Marrero fought in stalker mode, though unable to bottle and recreate the magic from the prior round. Martinez was able to work his jab, putting Marrero on the move and thus negating the offensive flow—a strategy which would continue into the championship rounds.
All of the good fortune of the 8th round squandered, Marrero was urged by his corner to leave it all in the ring in the 12th and final round. This time, the advice didn’t take as it was Martinez who once again took the lead, Marrero used lateral movement to avoid the incoming jab, though Martinez kept his composure and picked his shots. Marrero threatened to let his hands go in the final minute of the fight, but a subtle defensive adjustment by Martinez dulled the attack as he closed the fight strong to preserve the win and his unbeaten record.
Martinez improves to 16-0 (11KOs), the win coming on the eve of his 23rd birthday. He is now in position to challenge for one of the many WBA 130-pound titles currently making the rounds. Marrero suffers his second straight defeat, falling to (25-4) in his junior lightweight debut after a career spent at featherweight including an interim title reign.
The bout served as the chief support of a Showtime-televised tripleheader, headlined by an interim welterweight title fight between Sergey Lipinets and Custio Clayton.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox